Australian news, and some related international items

Dave Sweeney – on wining Nobel Prize, and on treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

Dave Sweeney talks Nobel Prize and working against nuclear weapons

A Nobel Prize winner who grew up on a farm has dedicated his life to one of humanity’s most important causes.

DAVE Sweeney’s story starts out like so many rural kids.

Growing up on a grazing property, east of Melbourne, he wanted to be a farmer, but his Dad wanted his son to achieve more skills.

So Dave dutifully got a degree, and a range of jobs, including as a teacher.

But then he went one better and got a Nobel Peace Prize.

It was two years ago that Dave was one of the founding members of ICAN, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, who travelled to Norway to receive the globally significant gong, which puts him in the same company as Mother Therese and Nelson Mandela.

“I didn’t actually go on the stage with the King of Norway,” the 57-year-old says.

“But I was in Norway for five days, for the formal reception, with the king and trumpets blowing, and a big party afterwards.”

It speaks volumes about Dave that he and his colleagues don’t run around promoting the fact they are Australia’s only Nobel Peace Prize winners.

Instead, he continues to knuckle down and get on with the job that won the prize in the first place.

“I don’t really talk about it much, only when people ask or I’m doing a presentation,” says Dave, who still speaks with a farmer’s easygoing attitude.

“I don’t have a T-shirt saying ‘Nobel winner’ or a screen saver.

“Winning hasn’t changed my daily life, but there’s been a sense of ‘the stuff this guy has been banging on about forever is actually important’ and ‘these people have done a significant thing’. It’s validation and it opens new doors to keep the momentum going.”

Working between his homes in Melbourne and South Gippsland’s Phillip Island, Dave is currently lobbying councils — including, most recently, Benalla — to get on board and pressure the Australian Government to ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

He says the ICAN Cities appeal is an initiative that is seeking to build a wider recognition of and support for the UN treaty. At its most basic, a council passes a version of a model resolution and writes to the prime minister and foreign minister urging them to support it.

“Other councils get more engaged — some have asked ICAN speakers to attend council and community events, profiled the issue and initiative on the websites and newsletters, flown an ICAN/Nobel flag from the town hall, hosted displays about ICAN and the issue in their libraries, commissioned murals and public artworks,” he said.

“There is much that can and could be done and it really depends on the people and place.

“An important part of the local government initiative, and of ICAN’s wider work, is that it is non-partisan. We don’t seek to score points – we want to make one: that there are no winners in a nuclear war.”

Since 1996 Dave has been the nuclear-free campaigner at the Australian Conservation Foundation, working to stop uranium mining and promote the responsible handling of radioactive waste.

His role also includes working to stop nuclear weapons. That’s how, in 2006, he was one of the voluntary founding members who met over a cup of tea and beer to nut out a strategy, which the following year led to the creation of ICAN.

Today, ICAN has spread to more than 500 groups in more than 100 countries, with its headquarters in Geneva.

According to the Nobel committee, ICAN was awarded the world’s most significant prize for “its work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and for its groundbreaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons”.

“Often the deck feels stacked against us, that we can’t get a break and it’s not always fair. But this was awarded to a group of people who are not powerful or rich,” Dave says.

“It’s humbling and important recognition.”

He says just this year the Federal Government announced an inquiry into the nuclear energy industry, while in both NSW and Victoria there are pushes to examine the sector.

Dave says these are all under the guise of stopping climate change, even though science and industry are unanimous that renewables are the cheapest, fastest and easiest way to supply all our power needs.

“When you use a uranium fuel rod in a nuclear reactor you get a guaranteed three years of low- carbon electricity, and when you take the fuel rod out you get a guaranteed 100,000 years of toxic waste, which is poisonous to human life and the environment,” he says.

“There is a very poor risk-to- reward ratio.”

Yet despite setbacks, there are also breakthroughs.

He says just last week the Federal Environment Minister and the Northern Territory Government agreed with mining companies to transition out of uranium mining in Kakadu.

Dave says following Japan’s Fukushima disaster, the market for nuclear energy had dropped.

“In 2000, 22 per cent of global electricity came from nuclear energy, now it’s 11 per cent.

“Nuclear power is enormously expensive and slow. It would take 20 years to build a reactor in Australia and cost at least $20 billion.”

Dave says being raised in a rural farming family gave him a strong sense of the importance of social justice and caring.

“Mum and Dad were always decent, community-minded people. Mum would cut the sandwiches for the local emergency services and Dad would visit the sick,” he says.

“Even if I’d preferred to stay at home, it was always emphasised to me to put in.

“It’s a privilege to live in this country and so you give back, even if it’s something modest.”

He studied politics and literature, became a teacher, and later became an adviser at Oxfam, before former Prime Minister John Howard’s decision to mine uranium in Kakadu steered him into nuclear campaigning at ACF.

Given Dave has been campaigning on these globally-critical issues for more than two decades, what advice does he have for the younger generation, especially with the documented rise of eco-anxiety?

“I say to young people these problems aren’t of their making, so don’t feel guilt, otherwise you can’t get out of bed in the morning. But they do feel some responsibility and agency,” he says.

“Light a candle, say a prayer, put a sign saying ‘nuclear-free zone’ on your local school, do an act of kindness or a directed act of anger, write a letter to your council, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister saying we should ratify the Treaty.

“Yes, individual actions are small, but when you add the next action and the next and the next they really make a difference. Each action matters.”

November 14, 2019 - Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, weapons and war

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